Laptop wars – Emirates pulls back, and Etihad remains

For years the Big 3 US carriers have failed to keep Emirates out of the US, even after spending over USD50 million on lobbying, but in two quick poorly judged moves President Trump and the US security organisation pulled it off in just a few short weeks.

Confronted by a massive anti Gulf carrier campaign, Emirates has expanded rapidly into the US over the past two years, seeking to pre-empt any government imposed restrictions. Those never eventuated; it was too complex a move, and faced with the threat of retaliation.

However, by the scaring off of Muslim – and many other – travellers through President Trump’s anti Muslim immigration measures (whatever they might have been officially called), there began a serious downturn in traffic.

Then for the US to impose a hasty no laptop rule, for somewhat confused and opaque security reasons, was a real negative. Moreover, by effectively forcing passengers to check laptops, with all the safety implications of having a host of potentially combustible batteries in the hold, the new rules arguably created a much greater risk to passengers.

See previous Blue Swan article: Surprise security measures will hit business travellers and children and WiFi providers and well…everyone

These would be expected to have a direct effect on business travel on the proscribed routes, which included the UAE. That is, these measures included UAE origin flights to the US; but oddly the UK, which also imposed some country of origin restrictions, did not include the UAE.

On 19-Apr-2017 Emirates announced a reduction of 25 weekly flights to five US destinations. Emirates would have had 129 weekly flights to North America in northern summer 2017 but will now have 104. The cuts (Emirates says “temporary suspensions”) represent 19% of the airline’s US/North America network. Emirates will not shut any of its 13 North American stations, comprising 12 in North America and one in Canada.

There’s a lot of competition into the US among the Gulf carriers (and Turkish Airlines).

Average daily North America flights from Emirates, Etihad, Qatar and Turkish: 2007 to Jun-2017

Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG.

Yesterday, Etihad took the opportunity to score one on its larger neighbour. A spokesman said:

“Etihad Airways has experienced no significant change in demand on flights to and from the United States in recent weeks. Demand continues to remain strong on all 45 weekly services between Abu Dhabi and its six US gateways of New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Dallas. Effective 1 June, Etihad Airways’ second daily Abu Dhabi – New York service will be upgraded to an A380, making its twice-daily flights on the route an all superjumbo ‎operation. This demonstrates our ongoing commitment to the US market regardless of recent developments.”

The bottom line for travellers is that competition lives. It might not always be commercially sound airline business, but the inevitable beneficiary is the traveller.